Maritime workers (along with railroad workers) are one of the few exceptions to the federal workers’ compensation requirements.
In lieu of standard workers’ compensation insurance, maritime workers are covered by one of two programs: The Merchant Marine Act (commonly referred to as the Jones Act) and Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), both federally mandated programs that apply specifically to the maritime industry.
Merchant Marine Act (Jones Act)
The Merchant Marine Act mandates that maritime employers provide what is known as maintenance and cure for employees injured on the job, regardless of fault. Maintenance refers to a daily compensation benefit meant to cover the costs of shelter and food the injured party would have received aboard the vessel had the injury not occurred. Cure refers to medical expenses incurred as a result of the injury.
In addition to these guaranteed benefits, many maritime workers may be entitled to additional benefits in certain circumstances, such as when the vessel is shown not to be seaworthy. In certain cases, an injured maritime worker may be able to pursue other avenues of recourse as well.
If you or a loved one was injured in the course of employment in the maritime industry, it is essential that you consult with a competent maritime attorney as soon as possible in order to preserve your rights to fair and just compensation for the injuries incurred.
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA)
The Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act is designed to cover maritime employees who are not seamen. This includes longshoremen and harbor workers, as well as several other categories of workers, including government contractors and others.
Working on and around ships is dangerous, and often results in serious injuries. In recognition of both the danger and importance of working with ships, the Jones Act provides vigorous protection for seamen. Although it is required that you show negligence on the part of your employer when filing a Jones Act claim for your injuries, your employers’ responsibility to provide a safe working environment is very high, and you can receive significant compensation for your maritime injuries.
Maritime Injuries Covered by the Jones Act
Under the Jones Act, a seaman can seek compensation for any injury associated with employment onboard ocean or freshwater vessel navigating Alabama’s lakes and rivers. Although these may be described as “maritime injuries,” they do not have to occur when the boat is at sea. These injuries may occur:
- On vessel
- On a different vessel owned by another employer, if so assigned
- On docks and wharves
- During transportation to and from vessel
- At training facilities
The injury may have happened in many different places, but if the person injured is a Jones Act Employee and the injury may be connected to negligence on the part of the employer, then the employee may be eligible for compensation under the Jones Act.
Standard of Negligence for Jones Act Claims
Although you must show your employer’s negligence before you can be compensated for maritime injuries under the Jones Act, the standard for negligence under the Jones Act is different from many other types of lawsuits. According to maritime tradition and the intent and interpretation of the Jones Act, the vessel owner owes his seamen an obligation of fostering protection. This means that ship owners and maritime employers have a higher duty of care toward their employees, and negligence for the purposes of Jones Act claims may be comparatively slight.
Types of negligence that may justify compensation during a Jones Act claim:
- Faulty or defective equipment
- Missing or inadequate safety equipment
- Inadequate training
- Demanding an overlong workday
- Emphasizing productivity or speed over safety
- Negligence or assault by a fellow crew member
- Improper or understaffing of vessel
- Unsafe or inappropriate protocols
- Navigational errors
- Failure to provide timely medical treatment or evacuation of injured crew
These and many other related types of negligence may also be sufficient to justify compensation under a Jones Act claim. In addition, just because the negligence was actually due to a person or entity other than your employer does not mean you cannot file a Jones Act claim, as long as you suffered injury as part of your employment duties. The responsibility to provide a safe working environment cannot be ignored or delegated by your employer, so although other people may also be responsible, your employer remains a party to the maritime injury claim.
The Jones Act
The Jones Act protects the rights and provides compensation for individuals who work on ships or vessels. Unlike workers’ compensation, where negligence does not need to be shown, The Jones Act requires that negligence caused your injuries in order for you to recover.
If you are a worker, or crewman, on a boat or vessel, and you have been injured while working, then you may be able to sue your employer for the cost of your medical bills, referred to as “cure,” as well as a daily allowance to replace daily wages lost during recovery, referred to as “maintenance.”
The Jones Act covers crewmen who are employed on many different oceanic and riverboats and vessels, such as:
- Drill Ships
- Tug Boats
- Floating Cranes
- Cruise Ships
- Fishing Vessels
- Construction Barges
- Cargo Ships
- Diving Vessels
- Recreational Boats
- Drilling Rigs
There are many different factors that can affect your claim, such as the statute of limitations and how far out at sea you were when the injury occurred. Jones Act claims can be very difficult, and it is important that you contact one of the Alabama Jones Act attorneys at Long & Long if you believe that you have a claim against your employer. Our Jones Act lawyers will evaluate your claim for free and help you receive the compensation you deserve for your maritime injuries, the work you have lost, and the medical bills you are paying.
Defining A Jones Act Employee
Have you suffered an injury at work and want to know whether you are eligible for compensation under the Jones Act? The Jones Act offers protection to all “seamen,” but does not offer a definition of the term. As a result, there is not good, clear guidance about what constitutes a “seaman” for the purposes of the Jones Act and who is covered.
Seaman: A “Term of Art”
Seaman is a term that is used by the Jones Act, but is not defined in the Jones Act or elsewhere in the United States Code, so its usage is subject to some interpretation. It is considered to be taken at its established meaning. By the time the Jones Act was first passed in 1920, the term had gone through a number of redefinitions, but it was not until long after the Jones Act that something like a good definition would be determined.
Master or Member of a Crew
In the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act (LHWCA), Congress provided compensation to many types of employees related to maritime work, excluding anyone who is “a master or member of a crew of any vessel.” Eventually, the Supreme Court would interpret the LHWCA and the Jones Act as being mutually exclusive: Any person covered by one act was not covered by the other. By doing so, the Supreme Court established a test for Jones Act employees: They must be “a master or member of a crew of any vessel.”
The courts have further established guidelines for who is considered to be a member of a crew. To be considered a member of a crew, a person should contribute to the vessel’s function and have a more or less permanent assignment to a vessel or a number of vessels. Sometimes the 30% standard is applied: A person must spend no less than 30% of his or her employment hours on ships to be considered so assigned.
This has historically included:
- Carpenters & metalworkers
- Cabin & kitchen boys
- Deck hands
- Waiters & bartenders
- Oil rig workers
And some allowance has been built into the interpretation to include the constantly-changing makeup of ships’ crews as the technology and purpose of maritime work changes.
A “vessel” is defined in the US Code and includes “every description of watercraft or other artificial contrivance used, or capable of being used, as a means of transportation on water.” This includes all manner of boats and personal watercraft, but also barges, floats, and rafts incapable of self-propulsion. It also includes floating platforms, like floating cranes or semi-submersible drilling rigs, but excludes fixed platforms.
Offshore workers in Alabama’s commercial maritime industry have dangerous jobs that can expose them to serious personal injury risks. If you or someone you love has been injured on an offshore oil rig or in another accident, the personal injury attorneys at Long & Long can help. Our attorneys know how to handle cases involving all types of maritime and offshore injuries. We can help you navigate the complicated state and federal laws in pursuit of fair compensation in Mobile, Alabama. Contact us today for a free consultation.
Common Offshore Injuries and Accidents
Long & Long has years of combined experience representing clients with injuries from serious maritime and offshore accidents. We know how best to negotiate these claims according to the parameters of maritime law. It’s our mission to seek justice and financial recovery for victims in work-related offshore injuries. When workers’ compensation isn’t enough to cover your considerable damages, contact us for a solution. We can help clients injured in all types of offshore accidents, including:
- Fires and explosions. Fire and explosion injuries, such as burns, smoke inhalation, and traumatic amputations, can occur in offshore accidents involving oil or gas combustion. These are often the most catastrophic kinds of offshore accidents. Sadly, they are also some of the most common. Poorly maintained rigs and equipment, dangerous fuel tanks, and vessel collisions can cause fires and explosions in the oil and gas industry.
- Deck accidents. Slip and falls, being struck-by object, falls from ladders, and other deck injuries run high risks of causing serious head, brain, and back injuries. It is the employer and site manager’s duty to reasonably prevent offshore deck accidents, even when the rig or vessel is moving and jostling workers around.
- Equipment failures. Unfortunately, equipment failures and malfunctions are an almost-inevitable part of working offshore in Alabama. Oil rigs rely on enormous pieces of heavy machinery – equipment that could easily cause life-threatening and fatal injuries to workers if they malfunction. Caught in or between machinery, burns and electric shocks, and transportation accidents can all injure offshore workers.
- Oil rig injuries. Offshore oil drilling puts workers at risk of many different accidents and injuries. Hazards can include equipment failures, inexperienced coworkers, and human error. Falling objects, crane failures, falls overboard, and exposure to toxic substances are all common types of worker injuries on oil rigs.
- Offshore boating accidents. Unseaworthy vessels, careless captains, lack of proper maintenance, and other acts of negligence can cause preventable offshore vessel collisions and other accidents. Offshore boat accidents may come down to the liability of the employer or the owner of the vessel.
Offshore injuries can range from third-degree burns to an open head wound to brain injury from a falling object. Whether you sustained a spine injury, traumatic brain injury, loss of limb, lacerations, broken bones, or accidental poisoning, it’s crucial to discuss your accident with an offshore injury lawyer in Alabama as soon as possible. These unique cases require legal intervention for you to be sure that you’re protecting your rights. The sooner you act, the sooner you can receive the compensation you need to recover.
What to Do After Suffering an Offshore Injury
Knowing how to handle yourself and your claim after suffering an offshore injury can make a big difference to your case. Certain actions you take can help your benefits claim, while others can hurt it. Never hesitate to contact us right away after an accident in offshore Alabama. Our slogan “Don’t wait long” isn’t just a play on words – it’s sound legal advice for all injured accident victims. The sooner you contact us, the better for your claim. Here are a few general steps to take after an offshore accident:
- Report your injuries to your employer. Wait where you are and ask someone to notify your employer or manager about the incident. Stay as immobile as you can if you feel pain in your back, neck, or head. Let your employer know what happened and ask for medical assistance.
- Get help for your injuries. Offshore injuries are often serious. Always request medical attention as soon as possible after an accident. You may have burns, a head or brain injury, a spinal cord injury, or a broken bone. Prompt medical care can help your health prognosis, but it can also show an insurance company that you did everything you could for treatment.
- Document the accident. It may take time for a helicopter to arrive on an oil rig with emergency medical care. While you wait, try to gather as much information as you can about the accident, or have a trusted coworker do so for you. Important information includes photographs of the scene, details of the accident, and the names of anyone involved.
- Understand your rights. Once you receive treatment for your injuries, start thinking about your options for legal action. You might be eligible for compensation as an injured worker under the Jones Act, the LHWCA, and/or another type of claim. Talk to your employer about your options, but don’t call the insurance company just yet.
- Contact Long & Long. Our Alabama offshore accident lawyers offer free, confidential consultations so that injured workers can learn their rights at no cost or obligation. Give us a call at (251) 432-2277 as soon as you can after an offshore accident. We’ll immediately give you our best legal advice as to what to do next.
Insurance companies will not protect your rights or care about your future like our personal injury attorneys. Before you speak to a claims adjuster or agree to a fast settlement, discuss your case with a lawyer at Long & Long. We will evaluate your claim and tell you what we think it could be worth. We’ll also analyze all your recovery options under maritime and other laws. A consultation with us could open your eyes to better compensation possibilities.
Who Is Liable for Your Offshore Accident?
Pursuing compensation may require you to identify the at-fault, or liable party involved in the accident. Recovering under the Jones Act, for example, could mean bringing a claim against a particular party if someone else’s negligence caused your injuries or if the vessel was unseaworthy. The party responsible for your damages will depend on the circumstances of the accident. The following entities could be potential defendants:
- An employer. An oil or gas company operating in offshore Alabama could be liable if it or one of its employees was negligent or reckless in some way that caused the accident. Lax hiring and training procedures, poor ship maintenance, and failure to properly protect workers from injuries could all point toward employer liability.
- A coworker. If an incompetent or careless coworker or crew member contributed to your accident, you might have a claim against the company he or she works for. The laws of vicarious liability hold employers responsible for the actions and misbehaviors of their on-duty employees.
- A vessel captain. The captain of the vessel could be liable if he or she caused a rig accident or boat collision. A captain’s negligence at the helm could result in a maritime disaster and serious worker injuries. The captain might be individually liable for damages, or another entity could be if it employs the captain.
- The vessel owner. Poorly maintained, malfunctioning, and unseaworthy vessels that lead to offshore injuries might come down to the owner’s liability. It is the owner of the vessel’s legal duty to maintain it and pay for repairs as necessary. Lack of safety inspections, low-quality repairs, and other acts of negligence can cause injuries.
- Product manufacturer. Some offshore injury accidents stem from defective and dangerous products harming workers. For example, a defectively designed crane might collapse and kill workers on the deck below. In these cases, injured parties may have product liability lawsuits against the item’s manufacturer and/or distributor.
Many cases involve more than one defendant. A legal consultation at Long & Long can help you get to the bottom of who or what caused your offshore injuries. We’ll investigate your maritime accident, identify your best course of legal action, and help you with every step of the claims filing process in Alabama. We know exactly how to litigate complex offshore injury claims to our clients’ best advantage.
If you’ve been injured as part of your duties in a maritime job, call us at (251) 432-2277 today. We’ll schedule your personal consultation with one of our experienced job injury attorneys, who will review your case with you and get you the compensation you need and deserve. Long & Long is based in Mobile, Alabama and serves clients in and around the Gulf Coast.